Austin Bay has written an article that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. It covers a great deal of territory quickly and concisely, which is what Bay himself did on his recent whirlwind visit to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The article contains some evidence that Iraqization is starting to be effective, which ultimately will be the key to success in Iraq and a smaller American presence there. Bay doesn’t wonder whether the American military can do the job in Iraq, he wonders whether US public opinion and support can be sustained long enough to let them do it. It’s an excellent question, and Bay rightly notes the enormous role the press has to play in stirring up doubts.
Bay likens the Islamofascist terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere to a snake which, when attacked, uses its waning strength to strike a blow by sinking its fangs into its killer. The trouble is that many in this country don’t recognize that this particular snake is slowly dying, because its biting and thrashing look so scary at the moment. He adds:
An alarming number of [those in the US] these days betray impatience with our progress in the war on terror. It leaves you wondering if anyone in Washington–at least anyone in the Baby Boomer political class–knows what it takes to win a long, tedious, unavoidable war.
Previous generations did indeed seem to have more grit in that respect. But in this they were helped by journalists who considered it their duty to shape news in order to encourage morale on the home front, not discourage it. And these journalists, and the public, were also helped by politicians with a gift for stirring rhetoric, such as Churchill and Roosevelt. When Churchill spoke of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, the British people were willing to give those things, in part because of him.
Like it or not, we now live in an age that tends to look down with irony, cynicism, and disdain on whatever military-boosting press and politically stirring rhetoric we might be offered. And I clearly recall that in the post-9/11 weeks and months, George Bush attempted to warn us all that the war against terrorism (his euphemism for the war on Islamofascism) would be a very long and hard one, perhaps at times seeming interminable. But for whatever reason–his lack of sonorous and elegant delivery among them–many do seem to have forgotten his words and their obvious truth.
The press is proud of its post-Vietnam tendency to differentiate itself from the government and the military’s aims, and to be a sort of gadfly to them both. But, agree or disagree with the domino theory, Vietnam presented no clear and present danger to our country within our own boundaries. Now we do face such danger, although the press seems reluctant to adjust to this crucial difference.
In recent years it seems that the press has replaced its old pre-Vietnam role as willing and cooperative mouthpiece of its own government and military and instead has become the unwitting mouthpiece of the terrorists–those who would destroy that government. It’s not that the press praises the terrorists, of course; it’s simply that the work of the press has the effect of increasing public weariness and fear, which are among the terrorists’ goals. Every attack is trumpeted to the skies because it’s big news, but this means that the press is now in the business of publishing what amounts to terrorist press releases. As Bay writes:
Winning the global war against Islamicist terror ultimately means curbing the terrorists’ strategic combat power, and that means ending the media magnification of their bombs.
How to end this “media magnification?” Easier said than done; we have a free press, and we wish it to remain so. It is certainly not realistic to expect the press to stop publishing news of terrorist attacks, although one wonders whether such a voluntary blackout, if it were to actually happen, would in fact deprive the terrorists of a great deal of their power.
All we can try to do is to be watchdogs of the press. That’s part of where blogs come in–to point out the effects of publicizing terror, and to try to counter the fear, negativity, and weariness that ensues.
As one of those inspiring orators of times past, FDR, said in a different context years ago, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It may not be the only thing, but it’s one of the main things, and it is as true of fighting terrorism as it was of fighting the Depression. Perhaps even more so.